NRDC's Doniger discusses future of EPA's existing source standard

Are the data pertaining to the technological feasibility of U.S. EPA's new source standard too limited to hold up in court? During today's OnPoint, David Doniger, policy director in the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discusses the legal challenges facing the agency for its new source proposal. Doniger also talk about his expectations for how EPA will handle states' needs in its anticipated existing source proposal.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is David Doniger, policy director in the climate and clean air program at the National Resources Defense Council. David, thanks for coming back on the show.

David Doniger: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: David, EPA's recently proposed new source standards are expected to be challenged in court, and EPA is going to have to prove that what they've proposed is technologically feasible. Is the data too limited in order for them to fully make that case, and how much more work does the agency really need to be doing now in order to get court-ready?

David Doniger: Right. I think they have a very good, a very good proposal. It's very sound. The technology for CCS is definitely available. It's in use, all the components in use. There are a couple of plants that are about to come online using the whole suite together in a power plant. By the time this rule is ready to be finalized they'll be that much more experienced. And we need to remember that the law doesn't require what many in the industry are saying it requires, namely a whole set of plants in routine use already. In fact the whole point of it was to move beyond what's already in routine use and push the technology forward. So I think EPA is on very sound ground.

Monica Trauzzi: NRDC is spending quite a bit of money on ads, promoting EPA's air regulations and power plant standards, and urging Americans to support the proposal. Do you think that Americans understand fully the economics of the policy, though, and what the potential impact on energy costs would be?

David Doniger: Well, first of all, Americans are really concerned about climate change. They see it as a threat to their health and their well-being. And more than three million people submitted comments in support of the first proposal, and not only that, but get on with it and deal with the existing plants. So I think there's a strong base of support. In terms of the economics, there is no market for new coal plants anymore. It's dried up. So the analysis that EPA has put forward is that this new source proposal will have essentially no cost compared to what will happen without it. But nevertheless it sends a very good signal that if there is some renewed interest in building a coal plant here or there, it should be equipped with at least this partial CCS train that EPA has proposed.

Monica Trauzzi: So now the focus shifts for all the stakeholders to the far more controversial rule on existing sources. Does the agency seem sensitive to the needs of the states on this? And last time we were on the show we talked a lot about section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act.

David Doniger: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: How do you think that's going to work into it?

David Doniger: Well, that is the part of the law that applies, and it is a requirement for a pollutant like carbon dioxide, that having set new source standards the EPA is also required to deal with the existing plants. That of course is where the 2.2 billion tons of the carbon pollution are coming from. It's the largest part of our carbon pollution inventory, 40 percent, so it's critical to deal with this. And EPA is taking a very open and innovative approach, both in soliciting lots of input from states and stakeholders before the proposal was written, and secondly in thinking broadly about how to do this. Now NRDC recommended a particular approach about a year ago, which involves looking at the fleet as an entire system. And the EPA is now asking for input on what they are calling this system-based approach. There's a bunch of different ways to do a system-based approach; ours is one way to do it. But we're very encouraged that the EPA is thinking this way.

Monica Trauzzi: You said the agency's approach is innovative. Are they going to stretch the boundaries a bit too much at interpreting their authority on all of this?

David Doniger: I don't think so. I mean, they have a lot of room to work with because section 111 and 111(d) are written in very broad strokes. And EPA has I think a great deal of flexibility to create a program that's going to achieve the largest possible reduction at the lowest cost. That's what our proposal sets out to do, and we've shown a way to get more than a quarter of the CO2 reduced by 2020 and to do it for less than half the cost of the mercury rules. So there's a lot of opportunity out there.

Monica Trauzzi: Considering the level of partisanship and discord in Washington right now, how likely do you think some kind of congressional intervention is on all of this, and perhaps that it could be attached to some larger policy vehicle?

David Doniger: Yeah. Well, the House Republicans keep trying, and they passed maybe a dozen different measures one way or another to block or roll back regulation of carbon pollution. And all those measures go nowhere in the Senate and they would be vetoed by the President. So this is another dead end for them I think, like the effort to roll back Obamacare. This is a signature Presidential initiative, especially now after the President's June high-profile presentation, his Climate Action plan. I don't see those efforts stopping from the Republicans, but I don't them see them succeeding.

Monica Trauzzi: So we know the president laid out a tight timeline in his Climate Action Plan. How does the government shutdown affect the agency's ability to meet that?

David Doniger: Well, right now it's very disruptive, but right now I'm not sure what the net impact would be. The proposal on new sources of course is already done. It won't be published in the Federal Register until the shutdown is over, so the comment deadline might be extended a little bit. But the next big deadline is June for the proposal of the existing plants' guideline, and I ...

Monica Trauzzi: Do they have to extend the date for the comments? They don't have to.

David Doniger: Well, the comment deadline basically runs 60 days from the day when things appear in the Federal Register.

Monica Trauzzi: Right.

David Doniger: So just delaying the Federal Register publication probably delays the end date for the comments. I don't think that has a huge impact. A very prolonged shutdown will disrupt all kinds of things, including EPA's ability to focus on greenhouse gas, on carbon pollution regulation. And a shutdown as a blunt instrument, in our view, it doesn't make a lot of sense. We hope it ends immediately. But I don't see it just derailing the climate plan.

Monica Trauzzi: What are we expecting out of the Supreme Court next week on a group of EPA cases, and how could that decision play into the conversation on these regulations?

David Doniger: Yeah. Well, I think it's very, very unlikely that the Supreme Court would want to revisit its two prior decisions, 2007 Massachusetts, 2011 American Electric Power. And the first one said EPA's got the jurisdiction over carbon pollution and needs to go ahead on vehicles, which they have done, and the second one says EPA's got the jurisdiction over carbon pollution and is planning to go ahead on power plants, and that was eight to nothing. I don't see the Supreme Court going in a different direction. We'll see what happens.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to end it right there.

David Doniger: All right. Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you as always. Nice to see you. And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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